Hey, welcome to the Brandon Sanderson Frequently Asked Questions. We're going to take some of the questions I get the most often and record me answering them on YouTube. And our first one is, "What is the Cosmere?" This is indeed a frequently asked question. Most interviewers ask me this when I begin, though most fans have kind of figured it out by now. The Cosmere is my shared universe of epic fantasy stories. What happened is ... when I was 16-17 and was really getting into science fiction and fantasy, I read Isaac Asimov's later Robot books—later Foundation books, actually—he was combining Foundation with the Robot novels, and it blew my mind. I had never seen anything like this before. Now, granted, Marvel in comics and DC in comics had been doing shared universe for a long time with continuous continuity across multiple books. But in novels, Asimov was the first person I saw do something like this, and it really, really interested me.
Meanwhile, as I'd been reading these books, I really got into Anne McCaffrey's books, one of the very first authors I read, and then I got into Melanie Rawn's books, and then I got into David Eddings, and I got into Tad Williams, and I got into—I was just reading a lot of books. And however my mind works, I started to add my own characters to their books. It's a very weird thing. I've found out that other people do it too. So, I guess it's not individually weird, but we are collectively weird, those of us who do this. I would be reading a book and imagine a backstory to this side character, because I wanted to add something to the book, put something of myself into it, I guess. And then later on I'd pick up a different book by a different author and I'd be like, "Ooh, this side character, that's secretly the same person in disguise." And I started imagining this kind of back story where characters that I had devised were jumping between these different worlds and were having this big adventure behind the scenes where they were slipping in and out of other people's epic fantasy worlds. And I thought that was just really fun. It's something I continued doing all through my teens and 20s as I was reading. I still do this a little bit with games and books I read. I'll rewrite the story to match how I want it to be for me, particularly in video games, which gives me volition over my character. So, I figure I should be able to change what the character says, even if the dialogue option isn't there. My canon version of various video games is very different from the actual canon version.
Regardless, I had this character, Hoid, who was jumping in and out of books. When I started writing my own books in my early 20s, I started adding him as cameos to my books. I wrote 13 novels before I sold one. Book 6, Elantris, is the first one that got published, and it's the first time where I really sat down and said, "You know what? Epic fantasy is really what I want to do. Let's start building something here." And so, I wrote Hoid into that book. Then I wrote a book called Dragonsteel, where I jumped back, and I told his backstory on a different planet. Then I wrote something called Aether of Night a little bit later, where I delved into what had happened to some of those characters on a different planet far, far in the future. And I started building this thing that I called the Cosmere, which was an interconnected world of all these epic fantasy stories that people were moving around behind and jumping in and out of these worlds with different magic systems and different lore, but [which] all had some fundamental rules for the way the magic worked and where all these places had come from.
Well, eventually I sold Elantris, and Hoid was in there as a cameo. And I'd been giving a lot of thought to the Cosmere at that point. So as Elantris was getting published, I sat down and did an outline for the Mistborn trilogy, which I expanded to nine books in the middle of that outline and said, "what if I made this backbone series to the Cosmere", as I was then kind of officially calling it in my head. I went to my editor. I pitched it. I talked about Adonalsium, this god who was shattered long ago and sixteen individuals took up pieces of that god, the intents of the god, like that god's honor, or that god's sense of entropy, which was called Ruin, or things like this, and then went out into the Cosmere and were kind of ruling over these planets, or involved in these planets, or sometimes just lightly touching these planets. These sixteen Shards of Adonalsium, as we call them. And I grew, out of Mistborn and Stormlight, this idea for this large, super mega series, so to speak, behind the scenes.
Part of where this came from was me knowing that, as a new writer, pitching people on something that big was going to be tough. But if I could sell them a standalone novel like Elantris, they would be more likely to try that out, or a standalone trilogy like Mistborn. So, the whole goal was to have this hidden epic behind the scenes. And I wasn't even sure if I was ever going to get the chance to do more with it than just have it be cameos. You'll notice, if you watch for Hoid in the early books, they're just very cameo-ish. He briefly shows up here and there. In Mistborn 3 he's mentioned by name and you see him off in the distance. You don't even talk to him. This is because I wasn't sure if this was going to fly. One of the things that is difficult, particularly about storytelling back in the ‘80s and '90, was that you couldn't always rely on your audience being up to date with everything in the series. You couldn't expect them always to re-read everything. A lot of the books from the ‘80s and ‘90s will take a large chunk at the beginning to try to catch you up to speed in as non-annoying a way as possible. Well, that all changed once the Internet came around, and we were all able to just go look up summaries, or if we forget a character go to the wiki and find about them and things like that, which really is what I believe allowed something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe to actually exist and work, to have this deep and complex continuity.
And I was writing books just by happenstance that was doing all of this at the same time that this became a viable way of telling stories, at least a more viable way of telling stories. And people really latched onto the Cosmere and gave me the opportunity to really launch into it deep, so that there's a lot of interconnectedness growing between the books, as I always dreamed that I wanted to do but I wasn't sure if anyone would go along with me in it. And people have.
So, there's the long version of "What is the Cosmere?". The short version is it is my interconnected world of stories. But the long version is, it is the mega epic hiding behind the scenes, starring characters who make cameos in the other books.